Facebook can be a fantastic thing. It’s a way to connect with long-lost friends and relatives. It’s a way to keep abreast of the world’s news. It’s a way to get in touch with business associates or useful contacts. It’s also a way to be remembered after, even if that was never the intention.
Facebook delights in showing people their memories from the previous years. With the click of a mouse, it is possible to find out what you were doing (on Facebook) up to eight years ago – and sometimes that’s a fun thing to do. But some Facebook users are complaining that it is also dredging up some pretty upsetting memories too, showing them deceased relatives or pets, or showing them when they were in an unhappy place in their lives. And it’s not making them happy now.
The thing is, this kind of memory reminder – if there is such a thing – is not the only problem associated with Facebook. People with Facebook accounts will die. Of course they will. But there is no ‘magic button’, no algorithm that alerts Facebook of this and shuts down the account. It just remains there, empty of life. Although some accounts of the deceased do actually become a tribute and memorial to them. Their friends and family continue to post to it, sharing things they think their loved ones would enjoy, and writing messages. It is a kind of grieving process, and for many it really does work. The page can even be memorialised (although it is important for users to ensure their passwords are written in their wills if they want this to happen), meaning that the deceased person won’t appear in anyone’s feed suggesting that they become friends and so on.
But with around 8,000 Facebook users dying each day, what is really going to become of all of those accounts and memories? Is a Facebook account going to become the futuristic equivalent of photographs and candles?
Digital identities that continue to exist after we ourselves have passed away are troubling to some people. And for those who are searching for someone specific on Facebook only to find them, attempt to engage them in conversation, and then discover they have passed away – or never discover it and think that they are being ignored – it can be disheartening indeed. At least when a page has been memorialised it is immediately obvious. When it hasn’t, there can be some upsetting confusion.